tcc: chop shop

November 29, 2008

few films are able to capture a place, a moment, or an event, as well as this one.  it throws the viewer into the world of queens area chop shops, specifically the few located on one lone stretch of pavement covered with garages just a few blocks from shea stadium.  we are immediately engulfed in the world that forces our main character, ale, to grow up years beyond his actual age.

forced to earn a living for himself, ale sells candy bars on the subway, bootleg dvds to anyone who will listen, cellphones, tires, metal, found or stolen car parts, and he works and lives in a chop shop where he is sort of being apprenticed.  his goals for the more affluent do not seem so out of reach.  he wants to buy an old food service truck for him and his sister (who is now living with him, and hustling on the streets) to own and operate.  but to ale, it’s the world.  it’s a glimpse of control in a world where he has very little.

director ramin bahrani builds up the stakes perfectly.  ale’s sister starts putting in more and more money for the purchase of the truck, and ale becomes more and more aware of where she is getting the cash and forces him to mature even further.  which in turn pushes him deeper into the world of petty crime.  shea stadium is constantly sitting on the horizon, a constant reminder of the goals that ale will never achieve.  the film traps him in this world which he seems hopeless to escape from.

the film is beautifully shot, using very documentary style film making.  this puts the viewer into the world as if it were a documentary.  and the performances feel so natural that i’m actually questioning whether or not i saw a narrative feature or something real.  make sure you check this out as it’s out on dvd right now.  one of the better overlooked films of the year.

tcc: synecdoche new york

November 28, 2008

“there are millions of people in the world. and none of those people are an extra, they’re all leads in their own stories.”

there’s a moment in the film when the actor playing caden in the play within the film describes what the play within the film is about by saying “it’s about death”.  the real caden then turns to his assistant and says something to the extent of “it’s not just about death.  it’s about life, love, relationships, pain, suffering” and so on.  and that’s not just limited to the play within the film, but the film itself as well.

kaufman makes that is absolutely impossible to encapsulate.  it’s a film that has to be seen, and absorbed, and felt.  it’s amazing how a film that is structurally and narratively all over the place can be so fluid.  it’s amazing how characters come in and out of the film like little vignettes.

one thing i really loved about this film is how the actor that caden hires to play himself in the play, the man who has followed him around for 20 years, isn’t really the best man for the role.  he is actually doesn’t know anything about caden as a person at all.  caden has to constantly correct his direction in the play within the play and everyone that talks about him say that he’s very different from caden.  then dianne wiest’s character comes in and plays caden not as he is now, but how she sees him moving forward.  i think that says something very revealing about all of us.  how we see others, how we internalize actions and motives, and how connected we really are with people who follow us around for 20 years.

it’s also really interesting to note how almost all of caden’s extended personal interactions are with women.  and he’s constantly being referred to as a woman.  his ex-wife saying he smells like he’s menstruating, when he tells emily watson’s character that he might have been better if he was a woman, and then when he takes over in real life the role of ellen his ex-wife’s housekeeper.  i have nothing insightful to say about why kaufman does this, but it’s something that i’ve pondered deeply since seeing the film.  and that’s what this film will do.  it will keep you thinking about it days after you have seen it.

a film this reminded me of a lot was mulholland dr.  in that in ever scene, in every word spoken, in every action, there was a meaning behind it.  kaufman doesn’t just do things to do them, but really puts a deeper meaning behind everything.  and the beauty of that in this film (and mulholland dr.) is that he never explains himself, or even asks the viewer to figure it out.  he just paints the picture and hands it to you.

edited to add paragraph

i forgot i wanted to talk about the quote at the top of the page a little in the post.

i wrote an essay in high school about my own personal experience, trying to find meaning, fitting it in high school, and all that good stuff.  in part of it i wrote about trying to impress the audience that watches my every move.  my teacher was quite impressed with that part of the essay apparently (i’m really only writing this to tell you that i wrote a paper in high school and got an a).  but this quote was something that really resonated with me, and is clearly something i’ve thought of/struggled with before.  how often i catch myself trying to perform for people.  that people actually care what i do, what i say, and how i act.  that i actually have to do something for them in order to be happy.  where in reality what i have to do is for myself not somebody i don’t know.  i really loved how kaufman included this idea into the film.

it’s a bleak film, but i think in that quote there’s some hope.  i think kaufman’s saying that our lives our important, to us.  that even though there’s billions of people on the earth, things that happen to you are important.  emotions you feel do mean something because they’re happening to you.  and a film that can get me thinking that much about all of this is clearly doing something right.

the big sleep

November 24, 2008

“those are harsh words to throw at a man, especially when he’s walking out of your bedroom

this will be a quick write-up because i’m on my way to synecdoche new york in a few minutes.

i love the excitement of being on the verge of busting open a case.  few films are able to really tread the line between a great balance and an over saturation of it.  while this film doesn’t do it perfectly i think that it reaches moments of greatness, but ultimately doesn’t falls a little short.  but it’s still a fun ride.

i think what makes this movie so interesting is that it doesn’t make a whole of sense.  the plot introduces many many rabbit holes and secondary characters (most of whom get killed), and doesn’t try to resolve any of them to a satisfactory ending for the viewer.  the film is much more interested in the detective process and the relationship that forms as a result of it

and that’s the most interesting part of it i think.  the bogart/becall scenes are truly great and they do have a natural charisma (though they were married so it gives them an advantage most actors don’t get, but i’m not going to count that against them.  that was just strategic planning).  every scene with bogart and another woman were really great, and it’s his off-the-cuff remarks that kept me interested.  every scene he throws out gems that if you’re not paying attention to, you’re going to miss.  and that become one of the more fascinating things in the film, what’s bogie going to say this time?  oh snap!  dude’s a p-i-m-p!

that all being said, the film drags a lot in the last third and probably could have done without 20-30 minutes of footage.  i did find the constant flirting of every girl bogie runs into a little ridiculous.  i mean the guy has to be pushing 45 in this picture, yet every 20something girl finds him irresistible.  c’mon.

touch of evil

November 22, 2008

“it’s either the candy or the hooch”

let’s start off with what i liked.  the opening shot.  really great how it moves in and out, starting with the car then picking up heston and his girl.  the shot really plays with suspense when we know a bomb is in a car, then the car pulls up out of frame and we think “oh it’ll blow up now”, but the camera catches up with it.  then the car falls behind and we think “oh it’ll blow up now“, but the car catches up.  those were some really nice touches that i think raised the suspense immediately for the film (which is always a good thing).

welles was pretty funny as the gruff/corrupt/quite overweight detective (and i’m hoping some of those lines were ad-libbed because they felt just so off-the-cuff).  his performance was engaging enough (though it troubles me to think that he wasn’t stretching to far to play the latter half when he’s drunk the entire time) that any scene with him is interesting.

i’ve read a lot of praising for this film, and it mostly has to do with welles’ direction and the cinematography.  and while i think welles does a decent job (certainly not close to citizen kane) and i think any scene that is shot outside looks fantastic, anytime characters are inside the walls are littered with shadows.  maybe i’ve focused on this too much because whilst in film school, i’m always at odds trying to get rid of shadows, but they are everywhere in this movie.  and a lot of times there’s multiple shadows for one subject.  i completely felt the forced staging because of this and could just picture the lights up on stands 10 ft. from where the actors were standing.  also…..charleton heston was supposed to be mexican?  i realized about halfway through that’s why he was so tan and had that thin little moustache.  and the entire narrative of the girl from psycho being sort of kidnapped and drugged did not work too well.  mostly because of the way the people acted when they were high.  silly 1950s.

it’s an odd movie, and hard for me to figure where it places in the ranks of the 50s and in welles’ own career.  but interesting enough that if you are a film person, then it’s worth checking out.

5 films for december

November 20, 2008

the triumphant return to the 4 films a month schedule which will go off without a hitch this month because i won’t be in classes.  and we’re doing classic war films!  good times.

week of december 1:

stalag 17 by billy wilder

billy wilder war film?  i’m excited.

week of december 8:

the bridge on the river kwai by david lean


i’ve seen bits and pieces of this film over the years, but have never sat through the whole thing.  now’s the time.

week of december 15:

platoon by oliver stone


i’ve avoided it, mostly because of the dvd cover.  but well see how it goes.

christmas bonus – week of december 22:

it’s a wonderful life by frank kapra


i wrote it in last year…..it’s happening this year.

week of december 29:

full metal jacket by stanley kubrick


one of the few kubricks i haven’t indulged.

gimme shelter

November 4, 2008

“who’s fighting and what for?”

i will be getting around (shortly) to write ups on the big sleep and touch of evil, but we just watched gimme shelter for my documentary class and i want to write some quick thoughts up on it while it’s still fresh in my mind.

i was never a rolling stones fan.  even in high school when i was all about the classic rock, i still wasn’t a fan.  i’d even go so far as to say that i outright hated a lot of their songs.  so when the professor starts the film, i already thinking about how i’m going to sneak out so i won’t have to watch 90 minutes of songs i don’t want to hear.  but the more i watched the more i was drawn into the film, especially once they get to altamont.  maybe i was too harsh on them in high school, but the songs were not that bad.  i still am not going to buy any of their albums (or even obtain them by other measures) but i could see why thousands of people would go to a stones show.  but that was not the most interesting stuff in the film.

i had known about the altamont concert for a while, but actually seeing it on film is a whole other thing.  to watch the progression of a crowd of 300,000 people go from excited to progressively more and more violent is an amazing thing.  you truly feel the atmosphere of the place completely change.  which i have to give the maysles brothers a lot of credit for.  they were really able to capture the atmosphere of the entire event.  and to actually see the man get stabbed on film is one of the most visceral moments i’ve had watching any film.  and i loved how the maysles paired that with mic watching the footage for the first time.  watching his face as he process how the night went on and how the violence affects him was really amazing.  the camera just lingers on his face as we watch it, and his blank expression tells us all we need to know.

i was really taken aback by how much i really loved this movie.  and not being a stones fan, i think that’s saying a lot.  the maysles made it (or the second half at least) not about the stones but about an event.  something that changed everyone who was there, and possibly the 60s as a movement as well.